GAUHATI, India – Separatist militants released three volunteers from WWF-India on Tuesday who were kidnapped two days ago in a northeast Indian tiger reserve, but three others were still being held, local officials said.
Police were questioning the three Indian women, who were found in good health wandering out of a dense forest Tuesday afternoon near the border with Bhutan after the militants contacted local journalists and told them of the release, local council administrator Kampa Borgoyari said. Reporters were unable to speak with the women before police took them away.
Borgoyari refused to say if the militants made any demands and denied journalists access to the women, as authorities work to free three male volunteers.
The group of six was abducted Sunday while counting the tiger population at the Manas Tiger Reserve in Assam state. The park, which spans into neighboring Bhutan, has a sizable population of Royal Bengal tigers and wild Asiatic elephants.
Ananda Sargoyari, director of the tiger reserve who was able to speak with those freed, said one of the women told him their abductors had kept them moving from location to location within the forest since Sunday.
No one has officially claimed responsibility, but Borgoyari said the abduction was carried out by hard-liners within the National Democratic Front of Bodoland — which for decades has been fighting for independence or autonomy in the region, about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) east of New Delhi.
The separatist group's leader, however, condemned the kidnapping and denied any involvement.
"I on behalf of the NDFB clearly claim that we are not involved in that case," G. Bidai said in a text message, written in English that was sent to journalists' cell phones Tuesday evening. "I strongly condemn the miscreant and request to free them."
The militants have said the Indian government exploits the region's natural resources, including tea, oil and timber, while doing little for indigenous people, most of whom are ethnically closer to those in nearby Myanmar and China than in the rest of India.